State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov said on April 1 that the lower house of parliament will be ready to confirm President-elect Dmitriy Medvedev’s announced candidate for the post of prime minister, outgoing President Vladimir Putin, on May 8 – that is, just one day after Medvedev is inaugurated as president. According to the Russian Constitution, a newly elected president must submit his candidate for prime minister to the Duma within two weeks of being inaugurated, and the Duma has a week to consider the nomination and either accept or reject it (newsru.com, April 1).
It thus appears that Gryzlov, who heads the United Russia party, which has an absolute majority in the Duma, will dispense with the tradition of consulting with the Duma about his choice for prime minister. This does not sit well with the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) and the Communist Party, which have factions in the Duma and have expressed annoyance over Gryzlov’s comments. “That’s news to me, because that issue was not discussed in the Duma’s council,” Igor Lebedev, leader of the LDPR’s Duma faction, said of Gryzlov’s comments about confirming Putin as prime minister on May 8. “No one said anything about it to us.” Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov, who also heads his party’s Duma faction, said the procedure of naming a prime minister includes meeting with all of the Duma’s factions. “The attempt to cut things short and push everything through in a day or two is dictated not so much by work considerations as commitments to friends,” Zyuganov said (regions.ru, April 1).
Vedomosti quoted an unnamed source in Unified Russia as saying that the idea of confirming Putin as prime minister just a day after Medvedev is inaugurated originated with the presidential administration (Vedomosti, April 1). Thus, beyond simply showing contempt for the Duma as an institution and for its minority factions, the plan to get Putin confirmed by the Duma as prime minister without consultations on May 8 “once again underscores his special status in the existing configuration of power and his higher status compared with all predecessors in that post [prime minister],” wrote Pavel Salin of the Center for Current Politics in Russia (ancentr.ru, April 1).
According to other observers, Putin–or at least some of those close to him–are busy making arrangements that will further solidify his “special status in the existing configuration of power” and his “higher status” compared with previous prime ministers. Novaya Gazeta’s Sergei Mulin wrote that Aleksei Gromov, who currently heads the Kremlin’s press service, is a board member of the state’s Channel One television and supervises news on state television channels, circumvented Dmitriy Medvedev and got Putin to sign off on the creation in the Russian White House (the offices of the prime minister and his cabinet) of a Department of Press, Protocol and Mass Communications that will have 185 employees (novayagazeta.ru, March 30).
In a piece for the politcom.ru website, Igor Ryabov wrote that the “Party of the Third Term” – that is, those members of Putin’s entourage who unsuccessfully pushed for him to serve a third term as president despite the constitutional prohibition on more than two consecutive presidential terms – now has a plan “to weaken the institution of the president” while “strengthening the role of the premier.” Specifically, wrote Ryabov, this plan included amending the law “On the Government of the Russian Federation” to widen the government’s power; transferring control of the “power structures” (that is, the security and law-enforcement agencies) to the White House. It would widen the functions of the government apparatus to give it control over the mass media; making United Russia’s dominant position in the parliament “an instrument of the premier’s influence.” This would create “at least the phantom of a parliamentary republic” if not push through a law formally creating one; and would “reassign” the country’s governors “directly to the cabinet of ministers” (politcom.ru, March 31).
While not envisaging such a radical redistribution of power in favor of the future Prime Minister Putin, other observers predict that he will retain control over at least some of the “power structures” while President Medvedev’s influence in this area will be limited. “On the one hand, Putin will be prime minister and this means that, officially, he will not be heading the Defense Ministry, the FSB, the Interior Ministry, etc., directly,” Vladimir Mikhin wrote in Nezavizimaya Gazeta. “On the other hand, [Putin] does not intend to surrender power, and he should have people subordinate to him who really support him rather than the president.”
Thus, according to Mikhin, the resignation of top officials belonging to the siloviki faction, which opposed the choice of Medvedev as successor and wanted Putin to stay on for a third term, is unlikely despite the impending change of presidents. “Keeping [FSB Director Nikolai] Patrushev as well as other security ministers – Minister of Internal Affairs Rashid Nurgaliyev and the head of the Russian Federation Defense Ministry Anatoly Serdyukov – is advantageous for Vladimir Putin,” Mikhin wrote. “These are his people” (Nezavizimaya Gazeta, March 24).